Thursday, June 08, 2006

Thompson Recounts Stressful Work Environment

With Georgia Thompson's testimony, the defense is trying to portray her as a public official under tremendous strain because of a demanding workload, staffing shortages within her department and unpopular programs she was in charge of implementing.

Thompson told the jury that during the time of the state travel contract there were several positions below and above her that were vacant as the state faced a deficit of over $3 billion.

She said she was working on several state programs at the time, including implementing a state travel card and fuel card, and reducing the state's fleet by 1,000 vehicles. In addition to this she said she was working on an employee discipline problem and conducting over 70 interviews in an attempt to fill a vacant position.

When trying to reduce the state's vehicle fleet, Thompson said she had to send out teams to get vehicles agencies wouldn't turn over so she could put them on the auction block. Thompson said she received letters, phone calls and e-mails from legislators, union reps and other officials with issues regarding this and other programs.

Thompson said people were also resistant to using the travel and fuel cards because they could not collect the frequent flyer miles they would have in the past using personal cards, conduct Thompson said was "unethical."

Thompson described her workload as the source of the pressure she told Ian Thomas about during a conversation. She described her work as stressful and said "you get to a point where you question your own productivity" and that she worked long hours to keep up with the work.

She was also encouraged by supervisors to save money. "They were reaching out for ideas that would help save money and we were encouraged to do more with less," she said.

All of the programs she was trying to implement caused "pushback" from various agencies, according to Thompson. Thompson said she tried to deal with those pushing back by "accommodating them, working with them," and trying to meet them "halfway."

Thompson said the public sector was different from the private sector because when the state implements a program, many agencies refuse to cooperate. Thompson said there is a "degree of resistance to any change" in the public sector.

The last time an attempt was made to implement a state travel program was 12 years before, Thompson said. That attempt was met with considerable "pushback" from state employees, although it was optional at the time. This time the program would be mandatory, and she expected a lot of resistance.

"People take their travel plans very personally," she explained.

Thompson said the UW System, particularly the Madison campus, was a major source of pushback. Thompson said Madison, due to its size, "would take a harder stance" on what they would or wouldn't do regarding the implementation of various state programs. Thompson said there was "animosity between the university and the Department of Administration."

Thompson said the state's annual travel purchasing program is about $12 million, far less than corporate giants she dealt with in the private sector. General Electric, for instance, had a travel purchase program of more than $500 million when she worked with them in private agencies. Because of the state's small budget for travel, she didn't expect large travel providers to respond to the state's proposal.

She was also concerned the consolidation effort would hurt some small travel agencies, perhaps putting some out of business. This repercussion was discussed within the RFP development and contract evaluation committee, she said, and it was determined to go ahead with the program despite that.

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